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Ireland—Waterford Election Petition—Question

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 30 June 1870

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said, he would beg to ask the hon. and learned Member for Dungarvan, What course he proposes to take with respect to the Petition presented by him from certain inhabitants of the borough of Waterford, praying to be heard at the Bar of the House, or before a Committee, for the purpose of supporting certain charges made by them against Mr. Baron Hughes, in respect of his conduct when trying a Petition against the last Return for that borough?

, in reply, said, he proposed to take no course with reference to the Petition. He had no personal opinion whatever as to the degree of foundation that might exist for the allegations contained in that Petition; nor, so far as he was aware, had any hon. Member any practical means of forming an opinion on the subject, for the gravamen of the Petition was that a contrast or conflict existed between the decisions of the learned Baron on the two last Election Petitions for Water-ford; and the shorthand notes of the proceedings had not been printed in either of those two cases, while in only one had they been laid on the Table of the House. He entirely disclaimed the responsibility which the Question of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest. The Petition was a complaint in regard to the public conduct of the learned Judge in the discharge of public duties. Therefore, he thought that the best answer he could make was that the petitioners had a constitutional right to lay that grievance before the House. In calling upon him, wholly unconnected as he was with the matter, to lay the Petition before the House, he was asked to do that which he could not refuse to do; and, in presenting it, he was discharging a purely ministerial function. With regard to the views he entertained on the subject, he begged most emphatically to say that he offered no opinion whatever as to the truth of the allegations.

said, he would beg to give Notice of his intention to move that the Petition should be struck off the file.

said, he would beg to ask the hon. Member for Walsall, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions, How it came to pass that a Petition of that character was printed in the Appendix with the ordinary Petitions?

replied, that the Committee had no power to reject any Petition presented to the House. He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Matthews), in presenting the Petition, did not at the time call the attention of the House to the allegations it contained, in order that the House might have had an opportunity of considering whether it ought to be received; and it might have been open to any hon. Member to challenge a vote on the question that it be laid on the the Table. Since the alteration in the practice of trying Election Petitions, the rule on which the Committee invariably proceeded had been to print all Petitions connected with elections, because otherwise there would be no means of making known the complaints of the Petitioners. They always took the best means they could to satisfy themselves that the Petition did not offend against the rules of the House, and that it was not made the means of circulating libellous matter against individuals. He was afraid it was a Parliamentary myth to suppose that the Public Elections Committee read every Petition which came before them. They were necessarily obliged to depend very much in these matters upon the officers of the House. When his attention was called to the allegations in the Petition by the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor General for Ireland), he felt it to be his duty to ask the clerk—than whom there was no more efficient or painstaking officer—to inform him why it was that he had not called the attention of the Committee to these allegations; and he had received from the clerk an explanation which he hoped would be deemed satisfactory, which he felt it his duty to read to the House. It was as follows:—

"I greatly regret that a mistake occurred with regard to the printing of the Petition from the inhabitants of the city of Waterford complaining of the manner in which the proceedings on the late Election Petition had been conducted. Owing to the pressure of business arising from the great number of Petitions that were before the Committee on the same day, I omitted to call the special attention of the Committee to the objectionable matter contained in that Petition. I fully intended to have done so, and I have to express regret at the annoyance the mistake has occasioned."
Had his (Mr. C. Forster's) attention been called to the Petition, he should have exorcised his power of curtailing it or of refusing to allow it to be printed with the Votes.